Tuesday, February 28, 2006


It was only there for a matter of seconds, a snapshot on the retina, a picture momentarily framed by the window of the railway carriage. The elements gathered together, coalesced into a coherent, memorable whole, then dispersed as the scene dissolved and a fresh one took its place.

The bright morning sun and clear air made colours more vibrant, shapes more distinct, fine detail sharper. Sunlight sparkled on the lightly rippled surface of the lake, whose colour reflected the paint-box blue of the early morning sky; grassy shores shone a luminous green and through a thin veil of slender silver birch trees could be seen a group of six or seven dazzling white swans gliding serenely over the water.

Okay, you can take your fingers out of your throat now. But even if that description sounds preposterously over-endowed with adjectival superlatives, it’s only representing the scene as I perceived it in my mind. That image existed for just a moment, then vanished. But in that instant, it touched something in me – the purity of the colours, the freshness of the air, the regal presence of the swans, awoke something and caused that moment to stand out and gave an uplift that lasted for the rest of the day.

One swan in particular caught my eye at the head of an arrow-sharp wake, it seemed so sure of its direction. It’s easy to see why swans are associated with royalty; what adjective could be more appropriate to them than regal? With their air of self-assurance, calm purpose, serenity – they have no need to hurry, for who would dare stand in their way? – one would instinctively bow and submit to their innate authority.

The time was so short, all of that impression couldn’t have been communicated in its entirety in just those few brief seconds. No; the feelings evoked by the scene came from within, not from the scene itself. The visual image served to trigger old memories, bringing a set of pre-existing responses and feelings to the fore.

That’s why such scenes, and even an excessively rose-tinted perspective on them, can be so valuable, as they blow the dust off of a way of seeing the world that has sat forgotten in some unfrequented corner of the mind. It’s as though the mind’s appreciation circuits all too easily fall idle though lack of use, and benefit from an occasional kick-start.

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